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Clemens one win behind Phil Niekro

5/12/2004

HOUSTON (AP) -- The Florida Marlins probably thought they'd seen
the last of Roger Clemens after Game 4 of the World Series.

That was just wishful thinking.

Clemens won his seventh straight start and struck out a
season-high 11 for a triumphant rematch against the team that sent
him into retirement, leading the Houston Astros over the Florida
Marlins 6-1 Tuesday night.

"He never really went into retirement the way he threw,"
Marlins manager Jack McKeon said. "Thank goodness we won't seem
him again until the playoffs."

Clemens (7-0) allowed only three hits, including a second-inning
solo homer to Ramon Castro, over seven innings for his 317th win,
one behind Phil Niekro for 14th place on the career list.

When Clemens walked off the mound after striking out Luis
Castillo to end the seventh inning in Game 4 of the World Series,
the Florida Marlins -- and nearly everyone else -- assumed it was his
final major league pitch.

Clemens gave every indication he was going to retire following
the season, but instead followed former Yankees teammate Andy
Pettitte to their hometown Astros.

Thus far, that's been great news for Houston and bad news for
the National League.

The 41-year-old right-hander has won 11 straight regular-season
starts and is the first seven-game winner in the major leagues this
season.

"You should cherish these moments. It's pretty special and it's
happening in Houston," Astros manager Jimy Williams said.

Clemens didn't get a decision in that World Series game between
the New York Yankees and Marlins last October, which Florida won in
12 innings.

But if Clemens had pitched like he did Tuesday night, the
Yankees might have hoisted yet another championship trophy.

After Castillo's single in the third, Clemens retired the next
14 batters.

"October has a nice ring to it," Clemens said, smiling. "I
hope to have revenge on someone this October."

Clemens, who moved into second place on the career strikeout
list when he beat Pittsburgh last week, raised his total to 4,151,
second to Nolan Ryan's 5,714.

Penny (3-2) fared well against the NL's top offensive team but
still took the loss, allowing two runs and five hits in 6 2-3
innings with five strikeouts.

"Penny was great, but with Clemens there's no margin for
errors," McKeon said. "When you're pitching against a guy like
Clemens, every one of your mistakes is going to be magnified."

Morgan Ensberg had three RBI, Lance Berkman went 3-for-4 with
two RBI and Craig Biggio homered for the Astros.

Brad Lidge pitched a one-hit eighth, and Brandon Backe finished
the four-hitter.

Houston, which has won 10 of 12, tied the 1973 Astros for the
best start in franchise history through 32 games at 21-11.

This showdown between two of the NL's division leaders was
dominated early by defense and late by the Astros' offense.

Penny didn't allow a hit until Jeff Bagwell's shot bounced off
the glove of shortstop Alex Gonzalez in the fourth.

Houston finally scored in the seventh, when Berkman doubled in
Jeff Kent and Ensberg hit an RBI single for a 2-1 lead.

Biggio homered in the eighth, Berkman hit an RBI single off
Franklyn Gracesqui and Ensberg had a two-run single against Nate
Bump.

"It was just one of those nights," Penny said. "You're going
to have games like this when you pitch well and lose."

McKeon, who became the Marlins' manager at the age of 72 exactly
a year earlier, figured a win for Clemens was another victory for
all old guys.

"That's what happens when us old guys come out of retirement,"
he quipped.

Game notes
The retractable roof was closed at the game's start for the
first time this season following a day of heavy rain. The roof had
been closed only one other time, during the ninth inning of a game
against Cincinnati on May 1. ... Biggio received a standing ovation
from the crowd before his first at-bat. The applause was a belated
tribute for Biggio becoming the first Astro to reach 2,500 career
hits. He surpassed that mark at Atlanta on Saturday night.